Zoning Bylaw Working Group - Feb 5th, 2020

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Presentation by RKG and Harriman. We had three guests this morning: Ryan from RKG, and Emily and Camillo from Harriman. Harriman will handle zoning recommendations for this study. Today, they presented a set of build-out scenarios, based on our current zoning bylaws.

Ryan presented first. We're entering the future conditions phase of the project. RKG is looking at market implications and what could take place in Arlington's industrial districts, given current bylaws. A future meeting will explore possible zoning changes and their economic implications.

Emily goes next. Harriman looked at what could be built in Arlington's Industrial zones under current zoning, using existing dimensional and use regulations. The first scenarios used 10' setbacks at a 52' building height. The second scenario used 10' setbacks and a 39' foot building height. That gives us two alternatives: with and without height buffers. Most of the I districts abut R districts, so height buffers would apply.

Camillo walks the group through test fits on four of the Industrial districts. Generally speaking, they tried to maximize FAR in consideration of parking requirements.

(1) Forest St. One of the sites in this district has an easement which requires further research. At 52' building height, the current site could accommodate 28,000 square feet of light manufacturing and 18,000 square feet of office space. At 39' building height, we'd lose a floor. Loss of a floor reduces parking requirements, so the building footprint could be expanded. This configuration would support 47,000 (?) square feet of space.

These test fits assume a 26' ceiling height for manufacturing spaces at 13' ceiling height for office space. Where tradeoffs were necessary, Harriman tried to maximize the manufacturing space.

(2) Park Street. Park street could accommodate 148,000 square feet with a 52' building height. This site contains a wetland; they tried to keep the highest parts of the building away from the wetland, to reduce environmental impact. The parking requirements would require a lot of asphalt. They considered putting parking under the building, but are not sure the approach would be economically viable, particularly for a two story building (the first floor would be parking, and the second floor would be interior space). The entrance to this site is not idea for truck turns, and the wetland buffers force the building to be placed right up against the adjoining residential districts.

(3) Dudley St. Here, Harriman put the building on one side of the district, with parking on the other. With two story buildings (26' for manufacturing and 13' for office), the district could accommodate about 50,000 square feet. Streets are small in the district, so loading and unloading trucks would be a challenge.

John Worden says that Dudley street has a number of small businesses that do things which people need. He thinks nothing that discourages these small uses should be done here. Ralph Wilmer points out that these studies were done under current zoning. Ryan points out that there's little distinction between sidewalk and roadway in this area. The Dudley street district has three major property owners, and this test fit assumed combination of the three parcels. Developing each parcel separately would give a very different outcome.

Steve notes that Cambridge's Alewife District Plan encouraged parking behind buildings, to hide it from the street view. He asks if the shape and size of this district would prohibit such arrangements. Emily and Camillo thought so: aside from the shapes of the lot, there are streets on either side; there's no way to hide the parking from both street views.

(4) Mystic Street. The Mystic street industrial district is another case where parking can't be hidden in the back of a building. At 52' building height, we might be able to accommodate 8,000 square feet.

Mystic street is a small district that's surrounded by residential areas. Harriman felt we'd be better off converting the district from industrial to residential. Steve asked "In other words, this isn't a very good industrial district"; Emily and Camillo agreed. Christian asked if converting nearby residential to industrial might improve the district's potential. Possibly, but parcel assembly could still make redevelopment challenging.

Harriman's test fit assumed individual parcels, rather than parcel combination. A small office might be possible, but the site is not likely to work well for manufacturing.

David Watson asks about the history of the district -- how/why was it laid out the way it is. No one was sure. The site is likely in a degraded condition. Redevelopment would likely require remediation, but that would improve conditions.

Ryan notes that with the exception of Mystic Street, all of these build scenarios require parcel assembly. That creates challenges, due to the need to purchase property and hold it until acquisitions are complete. Trucking would likely have an impact on abutting residential areas. Wetlands in the Park Ave area are a challenge.

Arlington's Industrial districts don't have good transit access. We're not near a rail line or major highway. The town doesn't have any anchor institutions like MIT. That puts us as a disadvantage relative to nearby communities.

Steve expresses concern about our ability to accommodate growing companies. A startup often begins with 10--20 people; if all goes well, there will be 250--500 a few years later. If we aren't able to accommodate a growing company's need for more space, they'll have to pack up and leave.

All told, we could add 230,000 square feet at 39' building height, and 274,000 square feet at 52' building height. That's more than the 200,000 square foot need that RKG estimated as Arlington's share of regional growth.

Steve felt these were sobering figures. Akamai's new building in Kendall Square is 500,000 square feet. Partner's new headquarters in Assembly Row is 735,000 square feet. Those are single buildings. For Arlington, we're talking 200,000-some square feet in the entire town. But if that's all we have, that's all we have.

Ali Carter points out that one of the main property owners at Park Ave also own a residential lot that connects the Industrial district with Mass Ave. That lot could potentially provide access to the site from Mass ave, and may have been purchased with that in mind.

Charlie thinks it would be good to look at how the flood zone has changed over time, particularly for sites along the Mill Brook.

Emily points out that manufacturing spaces are often set up with two loading areas. Raw materials enter at one side of the building and finished products leave at the other. Ideally, the transportation system should be able to accommodate that.

Ralph wonders if we should try to keep office space in mind and work from that.

Steve thinks a data center would be a good use. They have few employees, don't create a lot of traffic, and could potentially create a high personal tax base. Emily says that a lot of municipalities are trying to attract businesses like that: low traffic, low demand for services, and a good tax basis. Fiber connectivity is a big factor in attracting data centers.

Emily suggests that we consider whether parking requirements are too high. She notes that proximity to the bikeway, restaurants, and shops could be a selling point for employers. David Watson has observed people walking along the bike path near office buildings in Bedford. Steve recalls working at the former DEC mill in Maynard; there were lots of shops and restaurants to visit during lunchtime.

Ryan mentions some of the guardrails that RKG has tried to work with. They tried to determine the average number of square feet needed for different industries, but found too much variability. So, they focused on minimum and maximum square foot requirements instead. Flex space is in high demand. These are buildings with high ceilings and less expensive interiors, which can be used for a variety of purposes. That might be useful for Arlington. The typical entry point is 800--1000 square feet per space, and 2000--3000 square feet per building. Flex space tends to be a good hedge against changing market trends, and the leases tend to be relatively short.

For peak efficiency, and industrial floor plate should be 80--100' wide. However, Tetragentics (on Mystic street) makes do with 40'. Ideally, flex space should be 70' deep with 16--18' ceilings. Distribution centers require higher ceilings, typically 20' or more.

Breweries (without tap rooms) are able to use flex space, and could fit in as little as 2000 square feet. Adding a restaurant or tap room raises the space requirement to 4000 square feet or so. Iggys Bakery in Cambridge has 30,000 square feet, with a small retail component.

Ali says she gets a lot of calls from breweries. They're interested in getting a foot hold here, but we either don't have they space, or they're put off by the special permit process, or they'd need food trucks due our town bylaws on serving alcohol.

Erin Zwirko shares a comment from the Arlington Heights Action Planning Committee. There's interest in having indoor children's play spaces. The play space might require a large footprint, but it could be situated in a building with other adult uses (i.e., places for parents to go while their kids are playing).

Camillo points out that Arlington requires a special permit for offices larger than 3000 square feet. It may be worth rethinking that requirement.

Ryan says we have space to accommodate projected growth in the region. Development in Arlington will probably be piecemeal. Our zoning limits what we can do. We aren't likely to attract any large companies in the short term, but perhaps in ten years. Residential land is the most valuable in Arlington. The town will need to have a value discussion about how to grow the commercial base.

John Worden says it's important to look at schools. He says that RKG used the wrong numbers in their last report, and asks Don Seltzer to present the "right ones".

Don Seltzer (public attendee) disagrees with the economic analysis that RKG presented during our last meeting, and seems intent on giving them a piece of his mind. He disagrees with the enrollment growth factor of $7,290 which was provided by the town manager's office; Mr. Seltzer thinks that figure should be $14,000. He claims that student enrollment has increased by 12% during the last three years while the school budget has increased by 24%. He states that the town's visual budget puts the school cost at $65M, and believes that's a false representation. He claims there are another $25M in school expenses from other sources: utilities, retirement, pensions, the minuteman high school, and debt service for school construction. He says we've paid for modular classrooms, a Thompson addition, a Hardy addition, and that we may need another elementary school in the future.

Erin Zwirko asks if any group members have ideas for public outreach. Steve suggests tabling on the bikeway, near the industrial districts. Pam Heidell suggests modeling more real-world scenarios before we start on outreach efforts. Dave Watson agrees with Ms. Heidell, and suggests postponing outreach until after town meeting. John Worden agrees with Mr. Watson.

Erin asks if late May or early June would be appropriate. David Watson thinks this could be relevant to discussions the Select Board and ARB are having on housing. Erin suggests that bikeway tabling could be done in conjunction with outreach efforts for the sustainable transportation action plan. When we get to this stage, it will be helpful to have visualizations, etc, to provide a more concrete view of the proposals.

RKG and Harriman will be back for our April meeting.


Zoning Articles from Citizen Petitions. The select board hasn't seen the list of zoning articles yet, so Erin feels it would be premature for a general discussion with this group. Instead, we'll discuss three articles that were proposed by working group members.

Patricia Worden will be proposing a definition of foundation. John Worden notes the term isn't defined in our bylaw, and he thinks we should have a definition. The intent of his second article is to require a special permit when changing commercial uses to residential in a mixed use building.

Steve Revilak notes that a similar definition was proposed as an amendment in the special town meeting of Feb 2018 (which dealt with zoning recodification). The stated motivation was to provide clarity for the ZBL provision on large additions. Steve asks if that's still one of the motivations. John says yes, and that he still wants a definition.

Christian Klein points out that the defined term is "building foundation", which is never used in the bylaw; he suggests using the term "foundation" instead. He points out that the definition uses the word "structure"; that's a defined term in the bylaw with a meaning that doesn't fit this definition. Christian states that our ZBL uses the term "foundation" when describing front lot lines and front setbacks. He'd like to be sure the new definition will not change those meanings. He gives John a written copy of a proposed rewording.

John says the problem is really McMansions, due to permissiveness of the building inspector.

Steve notes that the definition of foundation doesn't contemplate a porch that's built on top of the foundation. David Watson asks what the immediate effect of this change would be. Christian says it could effect non-conforming structures, and the definition of front building line. David asks if this would be clearing up an ambiguity or changing existing practice. Christian says he'd have to check with the building inspector.

We move on to John's second amendment, requiring a special permit for conversion of commercial to residential space inside a mixed use building. John says the only change is that the building owner will need a special permit.

Christian asks if the special permit would require environmental design review, since many of our mixed use buildings are on Mass Ave.

Steve is confused by the wording. By his reading, the change would apply provisions in section 5.4.2 when the alteration was done with a special permit, and exempt those provisions when the alteration was done by right. Ralph Wilmer had a different interpretation: he thought the deciding factor was whether the building was constructed with a special permit, or was a pre-existing mixed-use.

Steve notes that the ZBL really doesn't say much about use changes within a mixed use building. For example, suppose we had a mixed use building with office space and a bakery. The baker retires and the office tenant takes over the baker's space. That means we'd have a non-mixed-use building that doesn't necessarily to the dimensional regulations for single-use structures. John agrees that's an issue, but not the one he's currently trying to address.

There's a short discussion about Steve's article, which proposes to rename the terms "Open Space", "Landscaped Open Space", and "Usable Open Space". He wants to find terms that are closer to the definitions. John agrees that "landscaped open space" and "usable open space" are confusing. There's discussion about whether changing usage of the terms would be within the scope of the article.


Approval of Meeting Minutes. The group approved minutes from Jan 22nd.


Future Meetings. Our next meeting will be held on March 4th. At that time, we will discuss potential changes to the meeting schedule, due to staff availability.